The story of Nancy Chavi who was forcefully pulled out of the Miss Warm Heart of Africa beauty contest staged last December for being discovered at the last minute that she was "legally married" has sparked a heated debate in the country's modeling and beauty pageants circles.
According to the organisers of the event, Mnena Gaming, the pageant was open to single ladies, but not married women. Apart from being "legally married" Nancy Chavi and another contestant Prudence Ndovie also participated while having babies.
That story aside, a lot has been said and written about Miss Matofotofo [now Miss True African], which has been using the term 'Miss' despite the fact that the contest accommodates the married, mothers and even grandmothers hence courting controversy on who exactly qualifies to be called 'Miss'?
A few months ago, 2010 Miss Blantyre Yakosa Mkorongo handed over the crown to the 2011 beauty queen Malika Chitanda at Shire Highlands while nursing a baby.
And as if that was not enough, first princess for Miss Malawi 2010 Carol Zulu got pregnant during her tenure and now has a baby, a development which triggers more questions than answers on the credibility and seriousness of beauty contests in the country.
These developments have unsettled the modeling industry with observers suggesting that maybe it is time the term 'Miss' got redefined or neutralised to allow mothers and married women parade during beauty pageants.
Veteran and prominent beauty pageants organiser, Carver Bhima says anywhere in the world it is not accepted for single ladies to share the stage with mothers and married women for a catwalk, saying the title 'Miss' is reserved for unmarried women only.
"The word 'Miss' tells you it all - there are other categories for various pageants for Mrs., Mr., Mum and all have their age limits. Miss World specifies all to be single, slander and with an average height. There is no way we can have 'Mrs.' in Miss Something, that's total madness. If they want to include single ladies alongside mothers and married women in beauty contests then the organisers should drop the 'Miss' title and adopt a more neutral term that does not identify one by marital status," argues Bhima.
National coordinator for Miss Malawi, Vitu Kamanga, says married women are at a different level since they are committed to a partner and no longer fall in the 'Miss' category as such it would be conflicting to have them participate in a 'Miss Something' contest.
"Miss refers to a single and childless contestant who falls within the required age bracket as per pageant rules. Mothers and married women cannot compete as singles because it defeats the whole purpose of rewarding the deserving singles who have avoided pregnancy before they are ready for motherhood. Mothers and the rest have their own exclusive pageants. Age is important as it signifies a period the young women are at their prime with ambitions and goals which are important.
"However, there are single mothers who use 'Miss' but are still at a different level of life as they are responsible for another life that they brought into the world, thus experiencing a different life from that of the single, childless and young women," Kamanga points out.
And Mable Banda, Miss Malawi 2004 First Princess, says it is abnormal for married and single women to feature in the same parade, especially national beauty pageants.
"'Miss' signifies a young woman who is single. As for Miss Malawi, married women and women with kids are not tolerated because rules and regulations governing the Miss World pageant have to be followed," explains Banda.
On her part, Miss Malawi 2010 Faith Chibale says confusion arises because most Malawians do not differentiate modeling from beauty pageants.
"Anywhere in the world, a model can have a baby and be married but not a beauty queen. A beauty queen is supposed to be completely single," she asserts.
However, writing in her column, 'This World Around Me' that comes out in The Sunday Times, Deborah Nyangulu Chipofya once argued that 'Miss' is simply a label that has a lot of grey areas within it.
"As far as I see it, beauty contests define 'Miss' as being associated with sexual innocence hence the insistence that contestants not only be single but without children as well. But are all married women without children sexually innocent? And even if they are sexually innocent, does it imply that women with children are defiled and cannot therefore take part in beauty contests?" Thus Nyangulu-Chipofya queried.
The columnist went on to argue that the idea of marking women with children as defiled is an outdated one that only served to restrict women's choices.
"The way I see it, married women, mothers, and single women should be allowed to take part in the same contests as long as the contestants feel they are up to the challenge. Anyone has the potential to be beautiful, whether they are mothers, single or wives.
"Perhaps the thinking that married and unmarried women should not take part in same contests is premised on the idea that most of these contests are called 'Miss Something' ... Therefore, I suggest that a neutral term like 'Ms' or 'Chimphadzuwa' can be adopted for beauty contests. Thus Miss Malawi can become 'Chiphadzuwa cha Malawi'," wrote the columnist in The Sunday Times edition of December 25, 2011.
So, after all is said and written, the question remains that who qualifies to hop onto stage and parade during beauty contests?